Don’t be offended by the defense.

October 2, 2007

Lately, I’ve been learning a valuable lesson as I watch a few friends go through a similar situation.

We can’t let ourselves become offended by the defensiveness of others. Often, people who can’t come to terms with their mistakes, or can’t put their pride on the back burner, end up blowing the situation out of proportion and including elements to the conflict that don’t belong there. It’s just a defense and it tends to throw unsuspecting people off. It helps to protract the conflict until it is too big to untangle easily with simple apologies and moving on.

An example:

In an argument over rent, roommate #2 is fed up with roommate #1, who hasn’t been paying her rent on time, leaving roommate #1 in limbo for a few days of the month. While attempting to defend herself – and in doing so, deflecting the actual argument – roommate #1 brings up how much she suffers because roommate #2’s boyfriend was always bringing his dog to the apartment. Roommate #2 is confused by the connection and responds to that attack by claiming how frustrating it was to have to endure roommate #1’s mother always coming for visits and commenting on her lifestyle. Suddenly, the conflict has expanded from paying rent checks on time to how much the two roommates actually hated living together.

If the goal is to get the missing rent checks, and move on, roommate #2 has been thrown way off track, and the pair have done greater damage than necessary. If the two still plan to live together for much longer, then it is time for the other issues to be addressed, but not as insults hurled at each other; rather, the roommates must sit and work out each issue step by step.

The key is to become skilled at detecting where the original dispute ends and the defense begins – and then to not take the defense personally.